FOR SA’s letter to Minister 6 Aug 2020

by Daniela Ellerbeck
14 August 2020


*Note: Following various requests for engagement with Government, FOR SA was invited to a high-level meeting with COGTA Minister Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, the COGTA Deputy Ministers and other high-ranking officials on Tuesday, 4 August 2020, where FOR SA was able to present the ongoing questions and concerns of the religious community relating to the Lockdown Regulations and Directions [LINK TO PRESENTATION]. What follows below, is the letter that FOR SA wrote to the Honourable Minister two days after the meeting.

6 August 2020


Dear Dr Dlamini-Zuma,


1. We refer to the Zoom meeting that took place between yourself and Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) on Tuesday morning, 4 August 2020 and which was attended – amongst others – by the following persons:

1.1. Yourself, as the Honourable Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs;

1.2. Deputy Minister of Traditional Affairs, Mr Obed Bapela (who chaired the meeting);

1.3. Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance, Mr Parks Tau;

1.4. Director General of Traditional Affairs, Mr Diphofa;

1.5. Director General of Cooperative Governance, Ms Williamson;

1.6. Chair of the CRL Rights Commission, Prof David Mosoma;

1.7. FOR SA Executive Director, Mr Michael Swain;

1.8. FOR SA Legal Counsel, Adv Nadene Badenhorst;

1.9. FOR SA Legal Advisor, attorney Daniela Ellerbeck;

1.10. The following members of FOR SA’s constituency (who form part of the religious leaders and organisations representing 18.5 million people, represented by FOR SA in this matter):

1.10.1. Ms Thembi Tulwana, General Secretary of the Inkululeko Yesiswe Association, representing 10 million people from 65 denominations and structures of the African Indigenous and Spirituality Churches;

1.10.2. Bishop Samuel Ndlovu, representing the Alliance of Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches in South Africa (APCCSA), representing 1589 churches across the country; and

1.10.3. Rev Dr Sipho Zondi, representing the Baptist Union of Southern Africa on all citizen related matters.

2. On behalf of FOR SA and our constituency, we wish to sincerely thank you for initiating the meeting in response to our various requests for engagement, and for taking the time – amongst other pressing concerns demanding your attention – to engage with us regarding some of the very important issues and concerns relating to the religious community.

3. We also note, and are grateful, for your undertaking to take up the matters raised with Cabinet and also with other religious leaders, and that FOR SA will indeed be included by the Office of the Presidency in any further consultations with religious stakeholders.

Religious community’s commitment to ‘saving lives’

4. As repeatedly stated in our correspondence to you (and again during our meeting), the religious community recognises that we are a nation in crisis. As ones who live, work and serve amongst the very people whose lives and livelihoods are directly and severely affected by the pandemic, the religious leaders and workers we represent are not ignorant of the very real threat that COVID-19 poses to our people and communities. They are not unaware of, nor unmoved by, the fear gripping the hearts of many of our people as they wonder if they will make it through, if they will survive – whether physically, or economically. Our constituents know, and love, these people – they care for, and minister, to them (also in very practical ways) when they are not well; they pray for them that they may get well; they rejoice with those who do get well, and mourn with those saying goodbye to their loved ones (or in many cases, who do not even have an opportunity to say goodbye).

5. Like you, Minister Dlamini-Zuma, FOR SA and the religious leaders and organisations we represent, want to ‘save lives’ – and will, as repeatedly said in our various correspondence to you and again during our meeting this week, cooperate with Government as far as possible to prevent the unnecessary spreading of the virus to our people and communities, and to keep our people (our nation’s most precious asset) healthy and strong.

6. It is with this objective in mind also, that various religious organisations have chosen not to resume their services for the time being (even though the Level 3 Regulations allow the resumption of religious gatherings). Others have gone to great lengths – also at a great financial cost to their organisations and their members – to put all the administrative and practical measures required by the Regulations and Directions, in place to make those environments as safe and risk-free as possible. (As you know and as was pointed out during our meeting also, the requirements for places of worship are more onerous and stringent than those which apply to any other sector in society, including shops and shopping centres, restaurants and casinos.)

FOR SA’s appeal

7. Against this background, we approached our meeting with you on Tuesday from a place of understanding regarding the fight for survival we all find ourselves in, in a spirit of appreciation for the intensely difficult task Government has of balancing lives and livelihoods, and a desire for Government and the religious sector to take hands and work together in this regard. This is because, for the religious leaders and organisations we represent, and indeed the millions of people of faith in our country, their religion and belief are very much part and parcel of their lives and livelihoods – it is what gives meaning and purpose to their lives, and helps them to make sense of difficult and painful times such as these. As such, people’s religion and belief (including their corporate exercise thereof) cannot be separated from, or in any way be regarded as of secondary importance, to their lives and livelihoods.

8. When, therefore, religious leaders and organisations appeal to Government for a further relaxation of the (stringent) requirements on religious gatherings, they do so from a place of wanting to better meet our people’s real and deep need for spiritual direction and encouragement in this tumultuous time – a need that only increases as infections (whether contracted at work, in a shop or a taxi) take its toll.

9. We want to make it very clear that FOR SA’s intention was not to “threaten” Government with civil disobedience in any way. We, together with the senior religious leaders present on the Zoom call, were very disappointed that it was misinterpreted by one or more attendants at the meeting. As specifically stated, our intention was rather to serve as a voice to Government on behalf of the cross-spectrum of denominations, churches and religious organisations we represent on this issue, and to give Government a “temperature check” of the current sense and perception amongst (some of) them. We were hoping that this would assist Government in its balancing of lives and livelihoods, and in making the difficult decisions that it needs to make – bearing in mind that these “balancing” decisions ultimately need to stand the scrutiny of law, including particularly the balancing exercise in s 36 of the Constitution as soon as constitutional rights are affected.

10. It is against this background also that we made our respectful appeal, on behalf of our constituency, for the religious sector to be treated equitably in comparison to other sectors of the society, particularly by allowing places of worship to:

10.1. Similar to casinos, occupy up to 50% of their floor space (while still observing all health, sanitisation and social distancing protocols as per the Directions for religious gatherings);

10.2. Similar to conference venues, occupy multiple venues (each with the permissible number of people / floor space occupancy, and with all health, sanitisation and social distancing protocols observed) on the same premises; and

10.3. Similar to car parks outside of shopping centres or casinos, permit drive-in religious gatherings with vehicles parked 2 metres apart from each other, and people remaining inside their vehicles.

11. In addition to the aforegoing, the following matters (raised in our various correspondence to you, including our last letter to you dated 17 July 2020) remain outstanding:

11.1. The issue of religious leaders’ status as “essential workers”;

11.2. The definition of “places of worship”;

11.3. The definition of “religious gatherings”; and

11.4. Children’s church.

12. We shall be grateful if Cabinet were to give these matters their consideration, as promised during our previous virtual meeting with the COGTA Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on 24 June 2020, and amend the Regulations / Directions pertaining to religious gatherings so as to bring about parity in this regard – particularly in view thereof that, by and large, the religious community (or those religious organisations who have decided to re-open at this stage) have made every effort to diligently comply with the Regulations / Directions, and thus work together with Government to ‘save lives’ while also taking care of people’s souls.

13. We thank you again for meeting with us, and look forward to further engagement in this regard. We once again assure you of our (and our constituency’s) commitment both in cooperating with Government in safeguarding our people from unnecessary risk, and assisting Government by caring for them as they suffer the impact of the pandemic upon their lives and livelihoods. Be assured also of our ongoing prayers for you, for great grace and wisdom in the way forward.

Kind regards,

Yours faithfully,

Adv Nadene L. Badenhorst

Legal Counsel, FOR SA

Nadene is an Advocate, and practised as a member of the Cape Bar for a number of years. She holds both a BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch and a LLM degree in International Human Rights Law (cum laude) from the University of Essex. She currently serves as a Next Generation Board Member on the Advocates Africa Board, representing Southern Africa.

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